Review of Beyza Ozer’s Fail Better
Beyza Ozer has never been shy about their love for the cosmos. It is this thread that ran through their first two collections: Good Luck with the Moon & Stars & Stuff (Bottlecap, 2015) and I Don’t Mean to Redshift (Maudlin House, 2016), and now reaches its nexus in their first full-length book Fail Better(fog machine, 2017). If Good Luck’s incorporation was the motif’s baby phase – full of new life, wonder, and mess – and Redshift’s incorporation was the motif’s awkward teenage phase where it didn’t quite know where it was going, then Fail Better is a more assured, adult form of the mythos Ozer works with and molds to their liking. The turns are more assured, the structure infinitely more ambitious, and the individual poems themselves harder hitting.
The turns in Fail Better are better than they ever have been in Ozer’s writing. “I Still Have Very Old Hands & Here Is That Letter I Promised You” remains a dynamo, but is rendered even more so by its better placement in the collection. (It was the last poem in I Don’t Mean to Redshift, Ozer’s second chap.) There, it was haphazardly thrown at the end and, while it’s one of the best poems Ozer’s written, it belongs in a place where it can open up the issues, concerns, themes, and motifs of the chap or book rather than closing them off. Mainly because the poem does a poor job of closing off anything. While it looks like a definitive statement, later poems are necessary to gracefully work out its thorny persistence.
For what looks to be the first time, Ozer has freed themselves up to write about issues they care about without coyly dodging the subject matter through the turns of the individual poems. This time the turns match the intensity of the context to such a staggering amount the combination is stunning. Out of the three collections, this one contains the best long poem they’ve written (“I Still Have Very Old Hands & Here Is That Letter I Promised You”), the best love poem they’ve written (“Roses”), the best series poem they’ve written (“At the Edge of the Exit Wound”), the best political poem they’ve written (“When I Kiss You, A Casket Opens: After June 12, 2016), the best personal poem they’ve written (“Parting the Sea Between Brightness & Me”), and two of my favorites ever (“A Phone Call Between Me & Allah” and “Fail Better”). There are a couple (like, very few) bad or off turns, but you’d be hard pressed to find a bad poem in this bunch.
The world is ending, and Beyza Ozer wants you to know that. I don’t want to go around calling people prophets, but it does look like the world is ending right about now and Ozer has very kindly given us a manual for these end times. Indeed, Fail Better almost reads like a how-to manual about love and self-care, with the Anneane sections peppered throughout an assortment of larger-than-life- yet-still-life poems and problems and issues. And what better way for enduring the world’s end than by loving oneself and others? And what better way to convey the issues this world is facing than by treating them as they are: hard to handle and too complex to grasp in books or individual poems.
A friend of mine once called Beyza Ozer’s writing in this book melodramatic. While I do think that Ozer often uses heightened emotions to a fault, I never get the impression that Ozer crosses that fault line into cheap heightened emotion, where the context doesn’t necessitate the emotions on display. In fact, I think this collection is the least melodramatic out of their three books because the material they’re working with is so much heavier, more nuanced, and more worthy of crying over. A long time ago, I wrote a short review of Good Luck With the Moon & Stars & Stuff and wrote that the chap made me cry. This was not true; the chap was not what made me cry, it was the feelings
that the chap superficially brought up. The difference with this most recent project is that, if I had cried, the tears would have been real and through the poems themselves. In fact, the final, most personal poem in the collection “Parting the Sea Between Brightness & Me” carries Ozer’s central motif of crying to a glorious finale and final resting place.
Fail better is a cliché term for getting up and trying again, getting back on the horse, trying even though you know your attempt is imperfect, etc. This phrase is dumb because the notions of success and failure are so tied into one another that their combination becomes essentially meaningless. But Ozer achieves a delineation not between success and failure but between successful poems and failed poems; they measure themselves by poetry – not through simple, capitalistic concepts. By writing more clearly and tangibly about success within failure (of themselves, of the world) in successful poems, they have achieved the title’s mission statement. To wit:
But I didn’t end up falling so I just sat cross-legged & thought about how fucking small I am. I didn’t cry. I saw Anneane’s face in a pink cloud that turned orange. She was smiling. It was okay. It was bright & there were birds. People laughing downstairs in the kitchen. It would have been okay if this body went for a walk down the mountain without me in it. (At the Edge of the Exit Wound #4)
Fail better indeed.
Blake Wallin is the author of the chapbooks Otherwise Jesus (Ghost City Press, 2015) and No Sign on the Island (Bottlecap Press, 2016) as well as the microchap The Lucidity of Giving Up (Ghost City Press, 2016).